The small landlocked country in the heart of Europe is full of surprises. It offers everything from beautiful mountain landscapes through thick forests to places with great history. Seven sights are so unique that they have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In our new series, we will introduce you to these spectacular locations in the small but beautiful central European country, Slovakia.
In 1993 Spiš Castle together with 2 other close by sites joined the UNESCO World Heritage list. With more than 40.000 m2 Spiš Castle is one of the biggest castles in Europe. It is located in eastern Slovakia, in a region historically called Spiš.
History & Architecture
The castle dates back to the 12th century. Back then it belonged to the Szepes County of the Kingdom of Hungary. Hungarian kings were its owners until the 15th century. Afterwards, it was a property of the most prominent noble families of Upper Hungary. After WW2, the castle became a Czechoslovak later Slovak Heritage.
The castle consists of Romanesque foundations, Gothic basilica and Renaissance residences. Sadly, it burned down in the late 18th century and was abandoned for nearly 200 years until the extensive reconstruction works began at the end of the 20th century.
The ruin fits perfectly in the hilly landscape of Spiš region.
A guided tour takes an hour. Plan around 2 hours for the whole visit. That way you can enjoy all the magnificent views. If you are visiting with kids, spend some more time. In summer there are many activities, such as knight games, where they can learn about medieval life.
English and German tours are available, but you can also walk on your own. Be sure to get to the highest tower for the perfect view. When the weather allows, you can catch a glimpse of the Tatra mountains in the north-east.
During the summer period (May – September), the castle opens at 9 am. The last entry is at 6 pm. In April and October, you can visit from 9 am to 5 pm. The site is closed in winter (November – March).
On Saturdays in July and August, there is also a night entry starting at 8.30 pm.
The entrance fee is 6 € per person. A family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids) is 14 €.
There is a car park below the castle. The walk to the entrance takes around 10 minutes.
What to do with the rest of the day
After visiting the Spiš castle, don’t miss a short walk on a path leading to Dreveník (around 20 minutes), a hill from where you can enjoy a beautiful castle panorama. A marked walkway from the car park will lead you there. Sometimes, you can watch climbers on the steep karst rocks underneath.
Then head down to the nearest “Salaš“, a typical Slovak mountain-hut-like restaurant for Slovak national dish, “halušky” (potato lumps, similar to gnocchi with special kind of sheep cheese) or “pirohy” (dumplings stuffed with sheep cheese).
After lunch, head to the natural reserve “Sivá Brada” – a small travertine hill with warm springs coming out from beneath the ground. It is 10.000 years old and still growing! One of the springs has been adjusted so the visitors can fill their bottles with mineral water.
A word of advice: Be careful around the springs. The ground is slippery. Also, the concentration of carbon dioxide is high. Thus it’s crucial not to inhale the gases for a long time. Keep your head up.
If you are a real history fanatic don’t miss the municipality of Spišské Podhradie to admire the ecclesiastical town of Spišská Kapitula with it’s majestic St. Martin’s Cathedral.
The medieval town, which actually is a single street enclosed by completely preserved walls, is also a UNESCO-site. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century. Romanesque and Gothic styles mix inside. The hand carved altar dominates the interior and many former lords of Spiš rest in peace there.
Monday to Saturday, you can visit from 10.30 am to 12 noon and from 1 pm to 5 pm. On Sundays, the cathedral is opened from 1.30 pm to 5 pm. Last entry is at 4.30 pm. The entrance fee is 2 €.
If your thirst for history isn’t fulfilled in Spišská Kapitula, the Church of the Holy Spirit in the village of Žehra won’t leave any wishes open.
The medieval Tree of life fresco, dating back to the 13th century, was re-discovered by accident and has been restored from under newer frescos. Like Spiš Castle and Spišská Kapitula, the church has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.
A word of advice: Visiting small churches in Slovakia can be exhausting. Mostly, you’ll need to pre-arrange your visit with the local presbytery and pay a small tribute for the church.
In Žehra, contact the presbytery: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you experience some troubles with communication, feel free to contact us. We’ll do the best we can to help you, as the churches are truly phenomenal and deserve a much bigger appreciation than they’re currently getting.
How to get there
The best way how to reach Slovakia’s sites is by car. There are several international airports nearby. You can easily get to Slovakia from Vienna in Austria and Krakow in Poland. Bratislava Airport offers fewer flight options. Also, the small airport in the Tatra Mountains, Poprad-Tatry has weekly connections with London Luton.
Hopefully, we encouraged you to add Slovakia to your bucket list on the next Europe trip. More posts about UNESCO sites in Slovakia are coming. Stay tuned.